A day with CityReach (and their bees!)

Five FoodMesh team members headed to East Vancouver to spend the day volunteering with charity partner CityReach Care Society, and enjoyed a tour of its rooftop beehives while they were at it.

FoodMesh has enjoyed a partnership with CityReach Care Society since 2019 on the Retail Food Recovery Program. CityReach picks up food donations from four stores on the program, in addition to its other donors, all of which ensure that CityReach can continue to run its Food for Families program. Thousands of low-income individuals and families across Greater Vancouver benefit from the program. It’s free and provides nutritious food such as fresh fruits, produce, proteins, grains and dairy. The program is but one of multiple efforts to achieve CityReach’s vision, which is “to see individuals and families thrive in all areas of life, by meeting tangible needs in our community and beyond.” 

At the time of publishing, CityReach had rescued over 228,000 kg of food from stores on the Retail Food Recovery Program. That equates to over 380,000 meals and a reduction of 434,000 kg of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent emissions). For an impressive view of CityReach’s achievements more broadly, see its eye-catching annual reports.

Needless to say, when the opportunity arose to volunteer at the food bank and be treated to a tour of CityReach’s new beehives, we signed up! 

CityReach operates its food bank in a large warehouse space in East Vancouver, next to Broadway Church. We arrived to trestles upon trestles of fresh and shelf-stable foods, all ready to be sorted into hampers for families in need. Sharon Dong, Director of the Food for Families program, graciously showed us around and introduced us to the other volunteers. After a safety briefing and pulling on aprons and gloves, we were ready to assist. We worked our way from station to station, filling bags with an impressive variety of lettuce heads, corn cobs, tomatoes, mangoes, citrus fruits and more. It was hard to believe that all of this good food was rescued from grocery stores as donations, and would otherwise be headed to landfill! 

Each bag was weighed and then placed on a set of portable shelves. Assistant Executive Director Cheryl McManus made her way around the room taking photos, the colours as bright as the volunteers’ smiles.

CityReach had rescued over 228,000 kg of food from stores on the Retail Food Recovery Program. That equates to over 380,000 meals and a reduction of 434,000 kg of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent emissions)

– Clea Wells

We were impressed to hear that several of the volunteers on shift were regulars who had been turning up at the food bank for years (and boy did they know their stuff). We also learnt that virtually none of the donated product goes to waste – for example, if an item is not at the quality needed for hampers, it can be donated to another charity for alternative uses.  

Then, time for the bee tour. We were greeted by the warm smile of Executive Director Simon Gau as he started the introduction. I was pleased to find out that my teammates had just as many questions as I did. Why did CityReach have beehives? Can anyone keep bees? Will we see the Queen Bee?

We made our way up the slope to Broadway Church and Simon led us through the auditorium, up the stairs to the rooftop. As we walked, Simon explained that the City of Vancouver had put a call out to anyone who might be willing to keep bees. Bees play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy environment of plants and therefore also play a part in our food systems. With the global decline in bee populations, Simon and the team at CityReach are doing our environment and food systems a favour. In fact, the CityReach team can quite literally see the latter in action: the bees fly from their hives, cross the road and pollinate the plants which are harvested for their clients’ hampers! How is that for an example of a local food system?!

Once we reached the roof, we were given bee suits – white with a mesh face covering, just as you’d imagine. As we got ready to get close and personal with these fascinating creatures, I couldn’t help but feel thoroughly inspired by the knowledge Simon was sharing with us. He had completed a short course on beekeeping, but you would think he had been doing this for years! 

Standing next to the hives, Simon answered the multitude of questions we fired at him. We learnt about the structure of the hives, the lifecycle of bees, when and how the honey is harvested, what NOT to do with a bee hive and yes, we saw the elusive Queen Bee. 

A couple of months later, we were pleasantly surprised to receive some fresh pots of honey from these very bees! 

If you would like to arrange a volunteering session and/or a bee tour, please reach out to Cheryl at cherylm@cityreach.org.

Written by Clea Wells, Program Manager at FoodMesh